If You Like: Jack Johnson, James Morrizon, Jason Mraz, soul and folk… Listen to This: “Holly”

There are only a few artists todaythat can succesfully straddle multiple genres of music, and Justin Nozuka is one of them. In his debut album “Holly,” released in mid-April, Nozuka seamlessly blends elements of folk, blues, soul and pop into his music. Nozuka strums and plucks his acoustic guitar as proficiently as the renowned Jack Johnson and sings with all the raw soul of James Morrison. The album is capped off with lyrics and melodies so well-crafted, it is almost impossible to believe that their composer Nozuka wrote them all in high school. This skilled musician began writing his own songs at the young age of twelve and wrote the oldest song on the album, “Supposed to Grow Old,” at fifteen. Critically acclaimed, Justin Nozuka received praise from everybody from the BBC to and performed his hit single “After Tonight” on Good Morning America in late September. The half-Japanese half-American Nozuka, originally from New York City, moved to Toronto, Canada with his mother and six siblings shortly after his parents’ divorce. His mother raised all her children alone from then on, providing them with support and encouraging them to follow their dreams. This type of encouragement is probably reason for the artistic paths of all five sons in the family. Most likely to accredit her for all the love and care during childhood, “Holly” is not only an album title, but also the name of Nozuka’s mother, and much of the album is greatly influenced by her. “Oh Momma,” a sweet, tender ode to Holly, is one of my favorite songs on the album. The song’s purity and simplicity prevent it from becoming too precocious. “Oh Momma” employs a gently plucked and strummed acoustic guitar and a smooth, flowing cello, which perfectly accompanies Nozuka’s warm, emotional crooning and adoring lyrics. The entirety of “Holly” continues these themes of love and care, with almost every song in the album emphasizing empathy and compassion. “Holly” alternates between sensitive love songs like the languid “Golden Train,” rich in strong acoustic chords, and grim, thoughtful pieces like “Save Him,” a haunting tale of domestic abuse. The first half of the album is largely wistful love songs like the bluesy “Be Back Soon” and “Mr. Therapy Man.” As the album progresses, however, the tracks grow increasingly dark and more melancholy. “Criminal,” an example of the latter style, is a song about the guilt and regret felt when one causes children any kind of pain. My personal favorite track on the album, “I’m In Peace,” is a bouncy, sunny love song that reminds the listener of warm summers. The song’s peppy drum line and thrumming guitar encourage you to bop and sing along, and its group background vocals conjure images of campfires and summertime bliss. Simple chords and straightforward arrangements free Nozuka to bend and stretch the melody of each song, as his youthful, energetic voice performs astonishing vocal acrobatics. Nozuka’s unique hybrid style will surely please soul, acoustic and folk fans alike. Jason Mraz fans will find traces of their favorite artist in Nozuka’s music. His youthful sound and at times sentimental lyrics may drive off older listeners, but anyone who really appreciates astonishing vocal talent will love Justin Nozuka. Grade: 5